History of Dogs as for Worship

Ancient Talbot Hound Ancient Talbot Hound

In Africa around 3,000 BC early civilizations occurred along fertile valleys where south west Asia (the Middle East) joins north-east Africa (Egypt)[1]. In these early dwellings some of the hunting dogs were so valuable that they were worshipped and/or became idols. The villages that dogs protected were probably an early type of Gazehound. These are portrayed in some of Belzoni's sketches similar to the Talbot Hound pictured with long ears and a broad muzzle.

They were valuable because they assisted in finding and killing wild animals which provided meat to sustain the people. Such was the dog's value that Egyptian philosophers encouraged the family of a dog who died to shave themselves as their expression of mourning.[4] 

Additionally in Egypt, burial sites dating back to around 2,500 BC contain skeletons of dog and humans entombed together. Although the significance of this burial ritual varied from country to country, it is clear that the bond between the two species, human and canine, was by this time firmly established. These burial sites also indicate some dogs were involved with ritual killings as a way of being worshipped.

Ways Dogs were Worshipped:

In ancient Egypt in Northern Africa there were different types of idols more than 2,000 years ago. Some dogs were portrayed as a sacred animal appearing on the friezes of Temples as emblem of the Divine Being. This is substantiated by the following quotes:

Hunting Dogs of Ancient EgyptHunting Dogs of Ancient Egypt

  • 'No dog was suffered to come within the precincts of the Temple of Jerusalem'[3e] 
  • 'Beware of dogs and evil workers'[3b] 
  • 'Without are dogs and sorcerers'[3c] 
  • 'The traffic in him and the price of him were considered as an abomination, and were forbidden to be offered in the sanctuary in the discharge of any vow'[3d] 

However, the Jewish belief at that time was somewhat different. Because dogs also cleaned the streets from offal that was thrown away, in both the New and the Old Testament the dog was spoken of singularly with abhorrence and was ranked among unclean beasts. Bearing in mind that the Jews had just escaped the tyranny of the Egyptians, idolatry was not established amongst the Jews[4]. Despite this, dogs were still used by the Jews to protect their flocks from wild beasts[2].

'Adam was a Keeper of Sheep'[3d] 

now that they are younger than I have me derision, whose fathers I have distained to set with the dogs of my flock[2].

Note: Derision = the feeling someone is laughing at you; distained = unworthy


The Idols

Here are three examples of the dog being worshipped as an idol.

  • The first example is that in Lower Egypt dogs predicated the appearance of Sirius, the dog star. This star was worshipped because it predicted the annual overflowing of the Nile on which the land depended. The subsistence agriculture of the inhabitants of the Nile depended on its annual overflowing. The approach of the floods was announced by the appearance of this dog star - Sirius. As soon as Sirius appeared above the horizon, the flocks were moved to higher ground, and the lower pastures were abandoned so the fertilizing influence of the flooding could take place. In later periods in other countries the appearance of the dog star was the symbol of insufferable heat or prevalent disease.
  • The second example is the worship of Anubis who was a guardian and protector of the dead. Anubis (pictured) has the head of a dog and the body of a man. This Egyptian god symbolized sagacity (wisdom) and fidelity (faithfulness and loyalty).
  • The third example was that one dog was elected King by the ancient inhabitants of Ethiopia. When the dog fawned upon (made up to) them, he was pleased with the proceedings, but when he growled he disapproved of the manner in which their government was conducted.

References and Further Reading

[1] Gascoigne, Bamber. "History of Civilization" HistoryWorld. From 2001, ongoing

[2] Bryants Mythology vol ii p.42

[3a] The Bible (740 - 680 BC) Job xxx.1. also Isiah lvi.10, 11

[3b] ibid Phil iii. 2.(c. 100 AD)

[3c] ibid Rev xxii.15 (c 100 AD)

[3d] ibid  Deut. xx iii 18. (1400 BC)

[3e] ibid Genesis iv.2 (1400 BC)

[4] Quoted in William Youatt 'The Dog" published 1848 London Charles Knight Fleet Street (under the Superintendence of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge.) Chapter 1 Page 4 Herodotus, lib.ii.c.66